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COMMITTEE FOR SCIENCE, ART AND CULTURE 








\ 




N I K.O L A 

YO N KO V 
VAPTSAROV 



POEMS 

Translated from the Bulgarian by 
PETER TEMPEST 









COMMITTEE FOR SCIENCE, ART AND CULTURE 

Sofia 1952 



NIKOLA YONKOV VAPTSAROV 

(1909-1942) 



VAPTSAROV, Nikola (1909-42)-out- 
standing Bulgarian poet, Communist, Son 
of a Macedonian revolutionary. In 932 
graduated from a naval college, worked 
as mechanic on a steamship, stoker in 
a paper mil] and on the railways. From 
his early years took an active part in 
political life, in 1931 joined the Com- 
munist Party. Was one of the first orga- 
nisers of Bulgarian-Soviet societies in 
Bulgaria. From 1938 to 1941 led a Ma- 
cedonian literary circle which fought 
against reactionary official literature. 
In 1941 edited the newspaper "Literary 
Critic". For his revolutionary activity 
Vaptsarov was several times arrested 
and exiled. During the years of fascism 
in Bulgaria was underground. On July 23, 
1942, for his antifascist activity Vaptsa- 
rov was shot. A few hours before the 
execution he wrote^ a poem expressing 
his feelings of love for the people : 
"But in the storm we'll be with you, 



My people, for we loved you so.* The 
first collection of Vaptsarov's poems 
"Motor Songs" was published in 1941. 
The hero of his lyrical poetry is the 
worker fighting for radical change of 
the social order. In the cycle of poems 
about Spain Vaptsarov praises the he- 
roism of the Republicans fighting for 
the liberation of their country. The so- 
cial pointedness of Vaptsarov's poetry, 
rich in form, expressive and energetic, 
brings it close to the poetry of V. Maya- 
kovsky. A passionate journalism, na- 
tional colouring, sincerity and persuasive 
force in every line mark the poet's best 
poems ('History", "We Shall Build", 
"Spring", "Remembrance", "On Parting" 
etc.). 

Works : Vaptsarov, N. Y., Se- 
lected Poems (Sofia, 1946) ; Selected 
Poems (2nd edition, Sofia, 1948).* 

(Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, Second 
Edition, 1951, Volume 6, pp. 619-20) 






* In 1951 Selected Poems (3rd edition), Partizdat, Sofia, and in 1952 
Selected Poems (4th edition), Union* of Bulgarian Writers, Sofia, were published. 



LYUDMIL STOYANOV 
Academician 

Member of the World Peace Council 

WREATH OF LAURELS 

(for Nikola Yonkov Vaplsarov) 



Thinking of Nikola Vaplsarov, I cannot help recalling the figure of the young Spa- 
nish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who after his execution by the Spanish fascists became 
the banner of ihe antifascist struggle not only in Spain but throughout Latin America. 
So closely do these two pcets resemble e<'ch other in their work and by their fate. 

Yet barely ten years have elapsed si ce the fascist butchers pierced his heart and 
extinguished his noble, militant spirit. Barely ten years since Vaptsarov, condemned to 
death, wrote the moving words of farewell about the light that was departing and fear- 
lessly took his stand by the execution wall. 

Nikola Vaptsarov was born in the town of Bansko, in the family of a prominent 
Macedonian revolutionary, an 1 from his earliest days was nurtured with the feeling of 
hatred of all oppression, until later, after a sound labour schooling at the Marine College 
at Varna and then as an engine technician in Sofia, he devoted himself entirely to tireless 
antifascist activity with pen and word, action and song. 

I remember how quiet, untalkative and attentive he was when he came to see me, 
a few days before he fell into the butchers' hands, to arrange for the collection of funds — 
and how to buy quinine for the internees at Enikyoi. I had not seen him for a long time 
and so we talked until late. 

Then I opened his collection of poems "Motor Songs" which had recently been 
published, and was convinced once more that he was a poet with a rare poetic gift, a clear 
and powerful talent. And he was still so young ! 

A worker himself, who had profoundly identified himself with the strivings of the 
working class, in his poetry he embraces images, feelings and thoughts taken from work- 
ing class reality. But it is clear that precisely this reality is the true harmonious, human 
and moral life, where people are brothers and not wolvess, where feelings are simple, truthful 
and desired — free from hypocrisy and greed. 

I know my place in life 
And I shall not surrender in vain, 
I will honourably die as a worker, 
I will honourably die for freedom. 

He felt that he spoke not just words. There was in him something of the drama 
of Hamlet, but he was a modern Hamlet. Events shook him like a young poplar but he 
had firm roots and indecision was alien to him. For he knew the power of evil, he knew 
the enemy who was not a ghost or a fiction but an oppressor of flesh and blood, a 



8 

butcher of freedom and of everything human in life Of Hamlet's resignation : "To be, or 
not to be...*, he bore in his heart the first half: "To be!" 

And in these days, tell me, 
When the enemy encircle us, 
Is it a sin in the heart, tell me, 
Still to keep a corner for love ? 

An integral man. he fought for his place under the sun, fought also to keep his 
human dignity. And against precisely these natural strivings of his advanced the night- 
mare of reaction, which with all his tangible and intangible senses he felt to be real. 

His personal grief and sorrow take quite a considerable place in his poetry. But 
they are always interwoven with his yearning for freedom and brotherhood. In one of his 
magnificent poems "Song of the Man" the hero says ; 

My fate is decided, I'll hang from the rope. 
But that's far from the end, 1 would say. 
For a life will arrive that is fairer than song, 
And more beautiful than a Spring day . . ." 

All the rebellious emotion in Nikola Vaptsarov's poetry, all his wrath, daring £nd 
militant fire come from his love for his own folk, for working people, for the people and 
his land, for his beautiful stricken homeland. 

With what pain he bears the thought that his homeland is a prey of beasts, that it 

does not belong to its children and he cannot call it his own : 

•■ 

This land, which I now tread, 

This land, which a Spring wind awakens, 

This land — is not my land, 

This land, if you please, is alien. 

He did not remain alien to the stirring events of his time. In his "Songs for a 
Country* he lauded the struggle of the Spanish people, the sacrifices of the fighters of 
the International Brigade, the battle in front of Madrid. In these songs there beats a bro- 
therly, responsive heart, which hints at his own dreams and anxieties — and perhaps Fer- 
nandes is none other than the poet himself. For slavery has one and the same forms, and 
the fight against oppression is one and the same everywhere. 

And here again I am brought back to a comparison with Federico Garcia Lcrca. 
Lorca was shot by the Spanish fascists. At the final session of the Second International 
Congress in Defence of Culture on July 18, 1937, in Paris, antifascist writers took an oath 
before his portrait not to cease from the struggle against world fascism until its final and 
utter defeat. This oath was not needed for Vaptsarov, he carried it in his blood. He was 
wholly a revolutionary, with him life and poetry, dream and reality mingled in a single 
aim : victory. He was unable to witness the end? but he knew that the end was near, and 
to him that was everything: 

But to die, when the earth is beginning 

To shake off its slough of wrong, . . 

When millions are being reborn, 

Is a song, yes, that is a song ! 











POEMS 



- 






11 



FAITH 

Here am I — breathing, 

Working, 

Living 

And writing my poetry 

(My best to it giving). 

Life and I glower 

Across at each other 

And with it I struggle 

With all my power. 

Life and I quarrel, 

But don't draw the moral 

That I despise it. 

No, just the opposite ! 

Though I should perish, 

Life with its brutal 

Claws of steel 

Still would I cherish, 

Still would I cherish ! 

Suppose round my neck they tie fast 

The rope 

And they ask : 

"Would you like one more hour to live ? 

] would instantly cry : 

"Untie ! 

Untie ! 

Come, quickly untie 

The rope, you devils!" 

For Life there is nothing 

I would not dare. 

I would fly 

A prototype plane in the sky, 

Climb into a roaring 

Rocket, exploring 

Alone 

In space 

Distant 

Planets, 



12 



Still would I feel 

A joyous thrill 

Gazing 

Up 

At the blue sky. 

Still would 1 feel 

A joyous thrill 

To be alive, 

To go on living. 

But look, suppose 
You took — how much ? 
A single grain 
From this my faith, 
Then would I rage, 
I would rage from pain 
Like a panther 
Pierced to the heart. 

For what of me 
Would there remain ? 
After the theft 
I'd be distraught. 
To put it plainly 
And more directly — 
After the theft 
1 would be nought. 










Maybe you wish 
You could erase 
My faith 
In happy days, 
My faith 
That tomorrow 
Life will be finer, 
Life will- be wiser? 

Pray, how will you smash it ? 

With bullets? 

No ! That is useless ! 

Stop ! It's not worth it ! 









My faith has strong armour 

In my sturdy breast 

And bullets able to shatter 

My faith 

Do not exist, 

Do not exist ! 










13 



FACTORY 

A factory. Clouds of smoke above. 

The people — simple, 

The life — hard, boring. 

Life with the mask and greasepaint off 

Is a savage dog snarling. 

You must tirelessly fight, 

Must be tough and persist, 

To extract from the teeth 

Of the angry, 

bristling beast 
A crust. 

Slapping belts in the shed, 

Screeching shafts overhead, 

And the air is so stale 

You can't easily 

Deeply 

Inhale. 

Not far off the spring breeze 
Rocks the fields, the sun calls . . . 
Leaning skyward 

the trees 
Shade — 
The factory walls. 

How unwanted, 

forgotten 

And strange 

are the fields ! 

They 

have thrown in the dustbin 

The sky and its dreams. 

For to stray for a second 

Or soften your heart, 

Is to lose to no purpose 

Your strong 

worker's 

arm. 

You must shout in the clatter 
And din of machines 







14 



For your words 

to pass over 
The spaces between. 

I shouted for years — 

An eternity . . . 

I gathered the others too shouted in chorus 

The factory, 

the machinery 
And the man 

in the farthest 

darkest corner. 

This shout forged an alloy of steel 

And we armoured our life with its plate. 

Just try putting 

a spoke in the wheel — 
It's your own hand you'll break. 

You, factory, 

Still seek to blind us 

With smoke and soot 

Layer on layer. 

In vain ! For you teach us to struggle, 

We'll bring 

The sun 

Down to us here. 



So many toil-blackened faces 
Under your tyranny smart, 
But one heart within you tirelessly 
Beats with a thousand hearts. 



15 







REMEMBRANCE 

I had a mate, 

A good mate too, 

But ... he coughed in trouble. 

A stoker by trade, 

He carried the coal in a sack 

And threw out the ash 

On the night shift for twelve hours running. 

I remember the eyes 

Of this mate of mine, 

How they thirstily drank 

Every ray 

Which chanced 

To pierce through the grime 

And reach our cage. 

How swift was the birth 
Of his feverish thirst 
In Spring' — 
When outside 
Leaves murmur 
And flocks 
Of birds 
Cross the sky. 

I could feel 

The appeal in his eyes 

And the suffering, 

Painful suffering. 

So slight was the grace they desired — 

Till Spring, 

Till next Spring . . , 

Spring came 

In her beauty, 

With sun, 

Warm air 

And roses. 

The clear sky 

Bore ns 

The odour of violets. 




16 



But in us was darkness, 

Oppressive 

And burdensome prose. 

But then 

Our life was upset. 

The boiler gave trouble, 

Suspiciously rumbled 

And stopped. 

I do not know whv, 

But maybe because 

The other lad died. 

Perhaps I am wrong. 

Maybe the hungry 

Boiler desired 

Familiar hands 

To throw coal on the fire. 

Perhaps it was so. 

I do not know. 

But it seemed to me, he 

In his gabble and gasping 

Was plaintively asking : 

"Where has the other lad gone?" 

He — the other lad — died. 

But look, 

Spring is outside. 

Far away 

The birds dart through the sky. 

But he'll see them no more. 

Such a mate had I . . . 

A good mate too . . . 

But he coughed in trouble. 

A stoker by trade, 

He carried the coal in a sack 

And threw out the ash 

On the night shift for twelve hours running, 




17 



DUEL 

We have come to close grips, 
You and I have locked hands. 
From my heart the blood drips 
And you weaken. What then ? 
One will be overthrown, 
One will be beaten — 
And you arc the one. 

So you doubt it? You don't feel afraid? 
But I've planned every move to be made. 
I'm putting my heart in the fight, 
And you will be beaten — 
Degenerate, venomous life. 

It's not now that we're starting, you know. 

Our duel began long ago. 

Our duel with passion we've waged 

For many long days. 

For days we have locked 

Our arms and wrists. 

I'll never forget 

Your brutal fist. 

In the mine gas exploded. 
The layers of coal 

buried 
Fifteen men below. 
Buried 
Fifteen 

human 

corpses. 
One of them 

was 
I. 

By the door of a slum 
Lies 

a smoking 

gun. 
While the corpse slowly freezes. 
No shouting, 

no din, 






18 



One bullet 

Then — dirt for the bin. 
It's as easy as that . . . 
No fighting, 
No passion for life, 
And no fuss. 
Don't you know 
Who it was ? 
It 
was 
I. 

On the rainwashed pavement 

the victim lies 
Shot dead from an ambush. 
The sky has been mined 
And will crash 

on the square. 
But the man 

lying there 
In the pool of blood 
Is my brother — 
A fire 

of hatred and love 
In his glassy stare. 

The villain, 

the loathesome 

gunman 
Instantly 

vanished from sight. 
You remember the rogue ? 
It 
was 
I. 

But do you remember a child that died 

in Paris on the barricades, 
A child 

that died in battle 
With gory 

retrogression ? 
The warm blood in his veins 
Grew slowly 

cold as steel, 
And then his lips were parted 
In a fleeting smile. 
But though his lips turned blue, 




19 



His eyes 

still burned with zeal, 
As if his eyes were singing : 
"Liberte cherie !* 

The child 

lay there 

shot — 
In the chill grip of death. 
Do you know 
Who it was ? 
It was I ! 

Do you remember * 

an engine 
With gay 

optimism 
Piercing 

the fog 
Where even the birds 

do not dare 
To descend 

through the mist-laden air? 
An engine with wings 
That cleave 

the cold curtain 
And change the earth's orbit, 
With gasoline vapour's explosion 
Clearing the way toward progress. 
The engine which sings high above 
Is the work of my hands, 
And the song of the engine 
Is blood of my heart. 

The man whose shrewd eyes 

were glued 
to the wavering compass, 
The man 

who had dared to defy 
The cold northern frost 

and the mist — 
Do you know 

who it was ? 
It was 
I. 

I am here 

and there. 

I am everywhere, — 






20 



A worker in Texas, 
Algerian docker, 

or poet . . . 
Everywhere am I ! 

Do you think, life, 

you'll win ? 
You evil and scowling, 
Dirty thing! 
I 
blaze, 

you blaze, 
And we're both of us 

bathed in sweat. 
But you're draining your strength, 
Growing weaker, 

declining. 
That's why you're ferociously 

driving your sting into me, 
In the terror of imminent death 

maybe . . . 



For then 



in your place, 



with toil and sweat 



We'll build up 



together in company 



A life 



we desire, 



a life we need, 



And how fine 



that life will be ! 



21 



A LETTER 

Do you remember 

The sea, the machines \ 

And the dark clammy holds 

of the coaster ? 
And how wildly we yearned 

for the Philippines, 
For the thick stars 

above Famagusta ? 
Do you remember how all the sailors 
Would eagerly glance afar, 
There — in the fading twilight — feeling 
The breath of tropical air? 

Do you remember how 

little by little 
Our final hopes grew cold, 
And our inner faith 

in good 

and in man, 
In romance 

and in dreaming 

froze ? 
Do you remember how 

quite unawares 
We were caught in the snare of life ? 
We grew wise 

too late. 

We were cruelly tied — 
Like beasts in a cage 
Flashing 
Eager eyes, 
And asking, 

appealing for grace. 
We were young, we were then so young ! . . 

But . . . later 

a hatred 
Struck root in the soul, 
Like gangrene, 
No, leprosy, 
Growing 

and rotting the whole. 



22 



It wove cruel nets 

of hollow despair 
And crept in the blood 

with twisting threats. 
It was early, was far too early . . . 
For there — 
High above 

still the lovely 
Seagulls glided past. 
And the sky still shone 

like crystal 
And space 

was blue and vast. 
At evening 

gently, so gently 
Still the sails would slip the horizon 
And masts disappear in the distance. 
But we were already blinded. 
For me that is past, unimportant — 
But we shared a straw bed, you and i, 
So I feel I must tell you the reason 
For my faith, why I'm cheerful today. 
It's the new life prevents me 
Smashing 

my 

temple, 
And turns 

my heart's anger 
To 

present 

struggle. 
It's the new life will bring back the Phillipines 
And the thick stars 

above Famagusta, 
Will return us the joy 

growing dull in our breast 
And revive our dead love for machines, 
For the limitless blue of the sea 
And the breath of the tropical breeze. 

It is dark now. 

The beat of the engine 

Impels and 

compels warm belief. 
If you knew how I hate 

vain 

illusion, 
How much I'm in love with life ! 




23 



For to me it's as sure as the dawn — 
With our heads we, shall break up the ice. 
From the low dark horizon 

the sun — 

Yes, our own 

bright 

sun 

will rise. 
And though the strong light 

shrivel up 
My wings, like a small butterfly, 
I never shall curse 

nor complain, 
For I know all the same 

I shall die. 
But to die, when 

the earth 

is beginning 
To shake off 

its slough 

of wrong, 
When millions. are being reborn, 
Is a song, 

yes, that is a song ! 



24 



SONG OF THE MAN 






We argued, 

a lady and I 

on the topic : 
"The man of our time". 

The lady, 

a peevish, excitable lady 

Impatiently stamped, 

answered back, 

Overwhelmed me with torrents 

of muddled complaint 
And a hailstorm of verbal 

attack. 

"Just a moment, — I said— -Just a moment! 

Look here , 
But she cut me short, taking offence : 
"I beg you, stop talking. 

1 tell you — I hate man! 
He doesn't deserve your defence. 

"I read of a fellow 

who took up a chopper 
Against his own brother 

and killed him. 
Then washed 

and attended a service at church, 
And afterwards said he felt better." 

I shuddered in horror, and felt none too bright. 
But I'm riot 

very strong 

in my theory, 

So I quietly said, 

as an honest man might : 
"Let's make a test case of a story. 

The case took place in a village, Mogila. 
The father had hidden 

some money. 
The son got to know of it, 

took it by force 
And then did away with his father. 

But after a month, or 

was it a week, 



25 






The authorities made an arrest. 
But the court 

doesn't function to give men a treat, 
And sentenced the culprit to death. 

They duly conducted the villain 

to prison, 

They gave him a number and can, 

But there in the prison he met honest people, 

Became 

a real man. 

J don't know 

the leaven that stirred him, 

I don't know 

the way it was made. 

But a song 

much more clearly than talking 

Opened his eyes to his fate. 

And then he would say : 

"O my God, how I floundered ! 
And here am I waiting 

to swing. 
When you're hungry 

and dizzy 

from hardship, 
You've only to make a false step and you sink. 

"You wait like a bull for the slaughter, 
Turn about, in your eyes there's 

the knife ! 
How unjust, 

how unjust 

is world order ! 
But perhaps we could better our life ..." 

He struck up his song, sang it quietly 

And slowly, 

in front of him 

life 

Floated forth like a wonderful vision . . . 

He sang, 

fell asleep 

with a smile . . , 

Outside in the passage 

they talk in a whisper. 
There follows a moment of calm. 
Then somebody cautiously opens the door. 
A few people. Behind them a guard. 

One of them 
Spoke 



26 



In a fearsome flat voice ; 

"Get up on your feet, man!' he bawled. 

The others looked on, 

with a vacant expression 
Examined the dripping grey walls. 

The man in the bed 

understood that right now 

Life had finished with him, 

and at once 

He leapt up and brushed off the sweat from his brow, 

Stared back 

like a wild staring ox. 

But little by little 

the man understood 

That his fear was no use, 

he would die. 

And a curious radiance 

lit up his soul. 

"Shall we go now?" he asked them. 

•All right.* 

He started 

and they followed after him, 

feeling 
A curious 

ominous chill. 
The soldier thought; 

"Let's get it over and done with ! 
You're in a tight corner now, pal.* 

Outside in the passage 

they talked in a whisper. 
The corners were hidden in shade. 
At last they came down to the courtyard. 

Above it 
The sky shone with breaking of day. 

The man saw the dawn 

and the brightening sky 
Where a star in its brilliance bathed. 
And fell to considering deeply his 

grievous, 
ferocious 
and blind, 
human 
fate. 

"My fate is decided, 

I'll hang from the rope. 
But that's far from the end, 

I would say. 



27 



For a life will arrive that is fairer 

than song, 
And more beautiful than a spring day..." 
He remembered the song, 

a thought flashed through his mind, 
In his eyes a small fire was kindling), 
He smiled a broad smile, full of brightness 

and warmth, 
Braced his shoulders and then started singing. 

What's your view of it ? Maybe 

you think we've discovered 
A case of a complex, hysterical ? 

You can think just whatever you like of the matter — 
Today, my dear friend, 

you're in error. 

The man calmly, 

sentence by sentence 
So firmly recited the song, 
That they stared at him 

uncomprehending, 
And watched him in fear and alarm. 

And even the prison 

was quaking in terror, 

The darkness too panicked and ran. 

The stars, smiling happily, shouted for joy, 

Cried out to him : 

"Bravo, young man !* 

From here on the story is clear. The rope 

skilfully 

Dropped on the shoulders, then 

death. 
But still his contorted 
And bloodless blue lips 
To the words of the song were compressed. 

And now we have come to the final denouement. 
Well, what's your opinion, reader? 
The lady 

had started to sob, 

the poor woman 
As if in a trance began shrieking: 

"How horrid, how horrid ! You tell the whole story 
As if you'd been there on the spot ! . / 
What's horrid about it ? 

The man sang a song — 
And that's very fine, is it not? 






28 



SPAIN 

What were you to me ? 

Nothing. 

A land forgotten and remote, 

A land of knights and high plateaux. 

What were you to me ? 

The hearth 

Where blazed a strange and cruel love, 

A wild intoxicant 

Of blood, 

Of glinting blades 

And serenades, 

Of passion, 

Jealousy 

And psalms. 



Now you are my destiny, 
Now I live and share your fate. 
In your struggle to be free 
Wholly I participate. 

Now I'm stirred, now I rejoice 
At all your victories in the fight. 
In your youth and strength I trust 
And my own strength with yours unite. 

Crouching in machine-gun nests 
I fight on to victory, 
Down among Toledo's streets, 
On the outskirts of Madrid. 

A worker in a cotton shirt 
Torn by bullets near me lies. 
Ceaselessly the warm blood streams 
From the cap pulled o'er his eyes. 

It is my blood that I feel humming 
Through my veins, as suddenly 
In him I recognise the friend 
I once knew in a factory 

Where we shovelled coal together, 
Stoking the same furnace fire, 







And found there was no barrier 
To check our young and bold desire. 

Sleep, my comrade, sleep in peace ! 
Though now the blood-red flag be furled, 
Your blood into mine will pass 
And stir the peoples of the world. 

The blood you gave, already flows 
Through village, factory, town and state, 
Arouses, urges and inspires 
All working men to demonstrate 

That workers never will lose heart, 
But will advance relentlessly, 
Determined both to work and fight 
And shed their blood that men be free. 

Today your blood builds barricades, 
Infuses courage in our hearts, 
And with a reckless joy proclaims: 
"Madrid is ours ! 

Madrid is ours I* 

The world is ours ! Friend, have no fear ! 

The whole expanding universe 

Is ours ! 

Beneath the southern sky 

Sleep 

and have faith, 

have faith in us ! 



29 









30 



LETTER 

Address : 



Senora 
Francesca Lahore 

HUESCA. 



Mother, 

Fernandes is killed ! 

Fernandes 

Is dead and buried. 

Fernandes 

No longer lives. 

Fernandes 

Lies in the fields 

On the outskirts 

Of Madrid. 

He was such a good man, tell me — 
Why did they cut short his life ? 
Though my Fernandes has perished 
They shall still go out and fight. 

Mother, there is only you 
To whom I can my grief unfold. 
You know how it is in war, 
And how many tears do flow. 

I look for signs of sympathy 
In other women's eyes, 
But there too I find bitter grief 
And tears, fresh tears arise . . , 

Perhaps it is a brother dead, 
A loved one killed on duty, 
Perhaps a piece of bursting shell 
Has ravished youthful beauty. 

Perhaps like me she 's vainly hoping 
And some news awaits, 
But the moist earth already holds him 
In her strong embrace . . . 



31 



Mother, you should not reproach him 

That he went away to fight. 

Now I even think that we 

Were sinning, Fernandes was right. 

He alone of us perceived 
The single truth in life — 
That it is best a man should die 
Than live the life of beasts. 

Bread we had. A single loaf 
Was enough for two. 
But for the son who will be born, 
Mother, will it do ? 

And there's another thing - somehow 
It's hard to understand. 
They go and fight together. Why ? 
Is bread the only bond ? 

Today there was a funeral 
For those trapped in a shelter. 
With my own eyes I saw it all 
But can't find words to tell you 

How strange a sight it seemed to me, 

How curious it was, 

For on the people buried there 

A wondrous radiance shone. — 

I saw them only for an instant 
In between the coffin planks, 
Through the coffin boards I saw them 
Stretching out their hands. 

In their death they fuse together, 
As one man they lie, 
And the flames of happy death 
Burn brightly in their eyes... 

All at once I understood 
He had to go to war. 
Fernandes died in the battle — 
I'll see him no more. 

Mother, Fernandes has perished ! 
Mother, Fernandes has gone, 
Fernandes is dead and buried ! 
Weep, because he died so young. 




32 



But to the old man say nothing ! — 
Sorrow will be his undoing. 
Hide yourself somewhere, cry softly 
And say nothing, nothing. 

If somehow he realises, 
If somehow he should suspect it, 
Say that both of us are well, 
And a baby is expected. 

You may say to him ; Dolores 
Is now learning fairy tales. 
She and Fernandes write asking 
Would you like a boy or girl. 

To write you any more, dear mother, 
Would but cause me further sorrow. 
Greetings from your loving daughter, 

Dolores Maria Goya. 




33 



GORKY 

I worked in a factory 
Under a low sooty sky, 
Where life beat us down 
With ironshod paws 
And furrowed our brows 
With hard toil. 

What a struggle it was 
To awaken 

The life in those people, 
To break up 

the crusted 

deposit 

of lies, 
that weighed 
On their lives. 

I worked in a factory 
Under a low 

sooty 

sky, 
Where life beat us down 
And the days — 

rusty nails — 
Jammed our souls. 

But then I remember, whenever we read 

"In The Depths" 
or 

"Mother", 
The sun pierced 

the grime 

of the factory roof 
and eyes shone. 
And the people 

In shabby back alleys and slums 
Would scrape off the rust 

from their thoughts 
and be happy, 
Be happy . . . 

But this morning 
Along came the stoker 




34 



And told me : 
"Vaptsarov, 
The steam 

is expended." 
I started and stared. 
But he went off upstairs 

much offended. 

Then in rushed the blacksmith 
And heatedly asked : 
"Is it true, mate? — he cried — 
"Is it true 

that the old man has died?" 
I froze, and with hatred, 
Entirely unwarranted 

hatred, said; 
"Damn it, I tell you 
To be more precise, 
Yet here you come blathering ! 
Tell me, who's died ?" 

He told me and I went outside. 
For the engine-room air 

prevented my breathing, 

The engine-room 

could not contain 

my sorrow. 
The engine-room , 

could not respond 

to my feeling. 

I heard the smith talking to somebody quietly : 

"Brother, how well Gorky knew us, 

Knew me, you and everyone else ! 

He'd put you in one of his books, 

Say: "Don't move !• — 

Then you'd read, 

rub your eye?, 

Know yourself. 

"Now suppose 

You've a child, 

And he's reading 

Or rather — discovering books. 

You've no money. 

Suppose 

You've no money. 






35 



He says: "Yes, the child must study 
Whatever his heart 
May choose." 

"Suppose 

You go home 

With a heart full of pain 

And a smarting soul, 

And you vent all your rage on the wife. 

He will lift up his head 

And from under his hrows 

Look up 

And enquire r 

*So you've not enough money for bread ?* 

The other man listened 
Enthralled. 
For everything 
Now seemed as clear 
As if life 

had thrown open 

its doors, 
As if in his breast 

a hard lump of snow 

had thawed. 

He murmured, 

Just audibly murmured : 

"Now that's what I call a real man! 6 









SPRING 

My Spring, my white Spring, 
Still unlived, still unfeted ! 
Still only a day-dream 
Skimming the poplars 
Not caring to stay here. 

My Spring, my white Spring ! 
You'll bring thunder, I know, 
Rain and hurricane too, 
To restore many hopes 
And to wash bloody wounds. 

How the skylark shall sing 
As it soars high above us, 
Our work gladness bring, 
And all men be brothers ! 

My Spring, my white Spring, 
Let me see your first flight 
Call the dead squares to life ! 
Let me but see your sun, 
And then — 
On your barricades die J 



37 






WE SHALL BUILD 

We'll build a plant, an enormous plant 
With walls of concrete and steel ! 
Men and women, 
We, the people, 
Shall build a plant 
Of life. 

Our children die 

In the poisonous stench 

Of sunless 

Suffocating slums. 

The world is a prison. 

Men and women, 

People, 

Not a step back ! 

We'll build a plant 

Of life. 

Our children die 

In the choking stench, 

With eyes that pine for the sun. 

But we with heartless cowardice cringe 

And say nothing, infamous nothing. 

We have suspended the cables 

Through which submissively flows — 

Yes, our own blood flows through the pylon cables 

Powering life. 

But life sweeps and drags us along 

While we gaze at it dumbly indifferent. 

We've burrowed through rock with our nails, 

Tunnels through granite we've driven. 

We've girded the earth with steel rails, 

in its bowels 
There's nothing lies hidden. 
Aerials pattern the sky, 

where on high 
Skyscraper summits are thrust 

in mist, 
And in space higher still 
Roar the ravens of steel. 



* 



38 




Comrades, let us be clear : 

I do not 

Brand-iron progress. 

I'm well aware 

That it is not progress that chokes us 

And we'll not destroy it. 

We'll build a plant, 

An enormous plant 

With walls of concrete and steel ! 

Men and women, 

We, the people, 

Shall build a plant 

For life ! 










39 



HISTORY 

History, will you mention us 
In your faded scroll ? 
We worked in factories, offices — 
Our names were not well-known. 

We worked in fields, smelled strongly 
Of onions and sour bread. 
Through thick moustaches angrily 
We cursed the life we led. 

Will you at least be grateful 
We fattened you with news, 
And slaked your thirst so richly 
With the blood of slaughtered crowds ? 

You'll view the panorama, 
O'erlook the living centre, 
And no one will remember 
The simple human drama. 

The poets will be distracted 
With pamphlets, progress rates ; 
Our unrecorded suffering 
Will roam alone in space. 

Was it a life worth noting, 
A life worth digging up 7 
Unearthed, it reeks of poison, 
Tastes bitter in the cup. 

We were born along the hedgerows. 
In the shelter of stray thorns 
Our mothers lay perspiring, 
Their dry lips tightly drawn. 



We died like flies in autumn. 
The women mourned the dead, 
Turned their lament to singing 
But only the wild grass heard. 

We who survived our brothers, 
Sweated from every pore, 










40 



Took any job that offered, 
Toiled as the oxen do. 

At home our fathers taught us : 
"So shall it always be/ 
But we scowled back and spat on 
Their fool's philosophy. 

We kicked the table over, 
Ran out of doors, and there 
In the open felt the stirring 
Of something bright and fair. 

How anxiously we waited 
In little-known cafes, 
And turned in late at night 
With the last communiques ! 

How we were soothed by hoping ! . . 
But leaden skies pressed lower, 
The scorching wind hissed viciously . . 
Till we could stand no more ! 

But in your endless volumes 
Beneath each letter and line 
Our pain will leer forbiddingly 
And raise a bitter cry. 

For life, showing no mercy, 
With heavy brutish paw 
Battered our hungry faces. 
That's why our tongue is raw. 

That's why the poems I'm writing 
In hours I steal from sleep, 
Have not the grace of perfume 
But brief and scowling beat. 

For the hardship and affliction 
We do not seek rewards, 
Nor do we want our pictures 
In the calendar of years. 

But tell our story simply 
To those we shall not see, 
Tell those who will replace us — 
We fought courageously. 




41 






CINEMA 

There's a crowd at the door 

Where the floodlit posters 

Proudly 

Announce : 

"A Human Drama*. 

There's a crowd at the door 

And the King's nickel horseman 

Sweats 

In the pressure 

Of my palm. 

On the square white screen 
In the darkened hall 
The Metro lion 
Sleepily yawns. 
Suddenly a road 
And a forest appear, 
And above — the blue sky. 
Expansive, clear. 

Meeting at the bend 
Two sleek limousines 
Collide. 
It's our hero 
And heroine. 

Promptly the gentleman 
Leaves his car, 
Picks up the woman 
In tough steel arms. 
Slowly she opens 
Eyes that smoulder, 
Flutters her lashes 
And skyward stares. 
O what a beautiful 
Thoroughbred mare! 

Nightingales, sure enough, 
Sing in the trees 
Where the peaceful azure 
Filters down through the leaves, 



42 



And yonder 

The soft green meadow 

Allures. 

Lustfully greasy 

John kisses Greta. 

Lascivious lips 

Start slobbering . . . 

STOP IT ! 

Where is our fate here ? 

Where is the drama ? 

Where am I ? Tell me ! 

Ready to shoot, the explosive time 

Presses a gun against our spine. 

In our love 

In our grief 

Can we be so naive 

With our chests full of smoke 

And our lungs T.B, ? 

Do we meet 
Those we love 
In a sleek 
Limousine ? 

Our love arises 
At work — 
Amid smoke, 
Amid soot 
And machines. 

Then comes the grey life, 

The struggle for bread, 

The vague dreams — 

Every night in the cheap narrow bed 

We barely perceptibly weaken and die. 

That's how it is. 
And there is the drama ! 
Everything else — 
Is a lie ! 










43 



COUNTRY CHRONICLE 






A man on the radio 

Hotly debates. 

With whom ? 

I don't know, 

But perhaps — with the people. 

Let the man talk, 

Isn't that what he's paid for ! 

"The power of the state 

And state authority 

Stand by ready 

To guard your interests. 

Down with slogans ! 

Drop your banners ! 

Everyone's satisfied, 

Sated, 

Happy.** 

A man in the coffee-shop 

Spits in disgust, 

Treads the gob firmly 

Into the dust, 

Looks round, says with a prudent nod : 

"They think they can trick us, 

The sons of bitches ! 

But has 't God written 

In Holy Scripture — 

The voice of the people is the voice of God ? 

"You're right!" 
Said a^ hungry 
Shivering youth. 
"Wasn't that the lie 
They told you then 
in nineteen hundred 
And fifteen ? 

"But today 

If they ask us to die, 
If they force us to face 
Bullet fire, 










44 



Even fools will agree 

That it's high time 

We 

Had our say. 



"And here's my belief, 

For our bread 

Is blacker than grief, 

And the oil jar 

Is empty : 

We've only one slogan - 

Down with the terror ! 

Ally with the U.S.S.R. ! 



45 






ON PARTING 

To my wife 

Sometimes I'll come when you're asleep, 
An unexpected visitor. 
Don't leave me outside in the street, 
Don't bar the door ! 

I'll enter quietly, softly sit 

And gaze upon you in the dark. 

Then, when my eyes have gazed their fill, 

I'll kiss you and depart. 



46 



jfc 



The fight is hard and pitiless. 
The fight is epic, as they say. 
I fell. Another takes my place — 
Why single out a name ? 

After the firing squad — the worms. 
Thus does the simple logic go. 
But in the storm we'll be with you, 
My people, for we loved you so. 



2 p. m. - 23. VII. 1942 





CONTENTS 

Nikola Yonkov Vaptsarov 5 

Wreath of Laurels by lyudmil Stoyanov • • 7 

Poems 



Faith 

Factory ... 

Remembrance ........ 

Duel . 

A Letter (Do you remember. . .) 
Song of the Man ........ 

Spain 

Letter 

Gorky 

Spring (My Spring .'..) . . . . 

We Shall Build ! 

History 

Cinema ■ 

Country Chronicle ...... 

On Parting 

The fight is hard . ■ 



11 
13 
15 
17 
21 
24 
28 
30 
33 
36 
37 
39 
41 
43 
45 
46 









Nikola Yonkov Vaptsarov 
Poems 

Editor : D. Boyadjreva ; Art lay-out : E. Petrov 
Technical Editor: Peter Spassov ; Proof-reader: K. Ganchev 

Printed folios 3 ; author's folios 3 
Format: 70/1 CO/16; 2,000 copies j Order No. 366/1952 

Sen', to press : 8. III. 1952 
Left the press : 19. III. 1952 

"Sc'ence and Art" State Publishing House 
"Economic Development" Printing Press— Sofia 

















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